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Inter-provincial travel restrictions impact northeast gold operations

Kirkland Lake puts Holt Complex in mothballs, reduces activity at Macassa
No. 4 Shaft headframe
Kirkland Lake Gold's No. 4 shaft headframe at the Macassa Complex in Kirkland Lake.

COVID-19 pandemic concerns and travel restrictions at the Ontario-Quebec border prompted Kirkland Lake Gold to temporary suspend its northeastern Ontario operations at the Holt Complex, near Matheson, and reduce operations at the Macassa Mine in Kirkland Lake.

The move comes on the heels of a similar directive to reduce operations at the Detour Lake Mine.

An employee at the remote mine, north of Cochrane, recently came down with COVID-19 symptoms at the camp and later tested positive for the virus.

Kirkland Lake Gold reports no new cases.

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The mining company said in an April 2 news release that both Macassa and Holt have a significant number of employees and contractors from Quebec who travel to Ontario for work. But there are increasingly tighter border restrictions, making the movement of workers difficult.

According to a Radio Canada report, just across the border in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue area, around Rouyn-Noranda, there are now 41 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with an increase of 7 cases in the past 24 hours.

Kirkland Lake Gold said essential activities at both operations are being handled by entirely by a local, Ontario-based workforce.

The company said workers impacted by the reductions will receive their base wages for the month of April.

On the gold production side, Kirkland Lake Gold management said the 2020 guidance is being withdrawn until further notice. It will be updated once normal operations resume at both Macassa and Detour Lake.

The company’s Fosterville Mine in Australia remains in operation with health and safety protocols in place.

“We are working very hard to respond quickly and responsibly to new developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said president-CEO Tony Makuch in a news release, “In terms of the measures being announced today, we do not make decisions to suspend or reduce operations lightly, recognizing the impact such decisions can have on employment as well as community investment and support.

"Having said that, the recent developments related to COVID-19, such as new limits on inter-provincial travel, has made it increasingly difficult to maintain normal business activities at Macassa and Holt Complex.

"We have, therefore, concluded that the best course of action is to reduce operations at Macassa and temporarily suspend operations at the Holt Complex until April 30, 2020. In cases where workers are impacted by these new measures, we have committed to providing their base wages for the month of April to help them get through these very difficult times.”

At Macassa, gold production, water and environment management continues. All activities deemed non-essential are suspended., including exploration drilling and work on a new surface ramp and mill upgrades.

Development on the new No. 4 shaft project continues at reduced levels. The company said that the project is schedule and on budget.

At the Holt Complex, the Holt and Taylor Mines, and the Holt Mill are being placed on temporary care and maintenance. The Holloway Mine was placed in permanent mothballs in early March.

The 529 employees at the Holt Complex will be off work but Kirkland Lake said it will provide basic wages to all workers for the month of April.

A skeleton crew will stay at the Holt and Taylor mines and Holt Mill during this period.

Kirkland Lake Gold said their COVID-19 management task force is meeting daily to monitor the situation and identify new measures to protect personnel, their families and communities.